Cover Story: Jayda G, Radical Intimacy
Cover Story: Jayda G, Radical IntimacyMay 17, 2021
In just a few years, Jayda G has become one of the scene’s most iconic young figures, filling festival stadiums while earning her masters and getting nominated for a Grammy. Now she’s mixing the next DJ-Kicks. Henry Ivry learns how it all fits together.
I first saw Jayda Guy— better known by her nom de guerre Jayda G — DJ in 2016. It was a small, sweaty room billed as a warehouse, but was more akin to a shipping container. I’d already had a cursory eye on the British Columbia-native for a while by the time the party came around; her CV had been filling up with releases on labels like the Australian Butter Sessions and the now-defunct 1080p. This was peak era for a type of dusty, lethargic house music coming from Canada’s west coast — what Andrew Ryce christened “the sound of the Canadian Riviera” — and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better encapsulation of that moment than Jayda G’s Jaydaisms EP.
Released on Freakout Cult, a label she co-runs with the Norwegian shapeshifter DJ Fett Burger, the EP’s billowy lead “Sound of Fuca” still gives me shivers. But seeing Jayda DJ was a completely different experience. While there were plenty of murky house tracks that felt both timeless and timely, what sticks with me now are the more high-definition moments of disco that she wove throughout the night. I’m by no means a disco aficionado, yet her expert skills behind the decks made even the most obscure disco cut feel somehow familiar. It wasn’t hard to imagine that the world would soon find out about Jayda G. And after a standout Boiler Room set at Dekmantel in 2017, she was almost instantly propelled into clubland’s limelight, as the world finally saw the same warmth and spiritual generosity Jayda brings with her to the decks that I did a year earlier.
I start with this meander down memory line as I have the same feeling as I turn on Jayda’s entry for !K7’s storied DJ-Kicks mix series. Since that November night in Toronto, Jayda has, to put it simply, conquered most swaths of the known world. She moved from Vancouver to Europe, played every major festival and club, released her debut album on Ninja Tune, held a BBC Radio 1 residency, was nominated for a Grammy for her work with Fred Again, and even partnered with Vogue. And yet, all these accolades don’t even touch on her academic work. In the same five-year period, she completed a Masters in Natural Resource and Environmental Management, specializing in Environmental Toxicology, and, as we discuss, she’s continued to identify ways to incorporate her research alongside her music career.
It’s a dizzying list of accomplishments. But Jayda avoids letting any of it go to her head, somehow maintaining her native West Coast chill, which you can hear in the opening track of her DJ-Kicks mix, which starts with “London Town” by ‘80s British funk band Light of the World. It’s a song that’s sluggish yet still sexy — in a Sunday morning kind of way; familiar and void of any pretension. Jayda makes it clear this is intentional.
“[The DJ-Kicks mix] is all this kind of nostalgic look at how my life has been, musically. There are certain songs I would hear, like Evan Pyramid’s track [“I Want Your Body”], and I remember that song being played at a show in some dingy, tiny little show in Vancouver, asking, ‘What is this song?’ And maybe these tracks are a bit well known now, but they still hold a special place in my heart, musically.”
You can really hear this across the mix’s first seven songs. Although there are some clever mixes — the transition from Don Blackman’s “Just Can’t Stay Away” to Gerry Read’s “90’s Prostitution Racket” feels particularly cheeky as a thematic blend — there are no fancy DJ tricks. But the selection is impeccable, and the pacing warm, with each track placed incredibly thoughtfully and deliberately. It’s a perfect introduction, in other words, to not only Jayda’s mix, but to her world more generally.
When we connect over Zoom, she’s in her home studio in London where she has lived since 2019. She left Canada in 2016 and, flowing with the DJ jetstream, ended up in Berlin. She’s since moved to London, a city she describes as her “heart place.” For her, the capital city taps into a sort of reservoir of mannerisms and cultural references that have crept across the Atlantic and wiggled their way into the Canadian imagination. “Like there’s certain things we grew up with, various British TV shows. So you come over here, you kind of know what you’re getting yourself into already. Everyone’s already saying they’re sorry constantly and, as a Canadian, I can get down with that.”
When I ask her why she left Berlin, we find ourselves discussing Canada’s famous etiquette and Berlin’s nearly as famous lack thereof. “I find in Berlin, not all of Germany, but specifically Berlin, people just don’t have that. Like they have their own things, but no one says, ‘Good morning’ or ‘How are you this afternoon?’, even though you know they don’t give a shit about how your afternoon is. I’ll take the fake niceties.” She couldn’t shake the feeling people were constantly upset with her in Berlin, which didn’t jibe with the warmth and genuine friendliness she so famously exudes.
Her music also gives off this sense of connection and intimacy, even as the rooms and stages it graces have gotten bigger and bigger. Take for example Jayda’s collaboration with Fred Again on the Grammy-nominated single “Both of Us”. “When my manager offered, he was like, ‘Hey, Fred Again really wants to work with you. Do you want to do that?’ And my manager was so pumped. And I was like, ‘Who is Fred Again? And why is his name Fred Again?’ This is just how I am. I really live under a rock and very much keep to myself, which is my comfort zone.”
But by the end of their second studio session, she and Fred were thick as thieves, “laughing constantly and shooting the shit,” she says. Jayda puts this down to the fact that she is a “huge goofball,” but it also feels related to her penchant for building and fostering communities around the people she works with.
Jayda’s retelling of her ascendancy to the top as a globetrotting DJ is telling. Although we start with her discussion of flying to gigs, she quickly pivots to her academic work and family, not her stratospheric rise to the Grammy’s. For instance, her move to Germany’s capital wasn’t necessarily a career move.
“I have family there — my sister-in-law and my niece and nephew live there. And I was starting to travel more, so I was like, okay, if I want to make this easier on myself, flying wise, I should move to Europe. It was kind of easy to move and it’s a lot cheaper to live in Berlin, but it was more about family.” It’s reflective of the way she has continued to approach dance music, environmental activism, and community building. These things are not separate for her, but foundationally symbiotic. Or, to crib from the lexicon of ecology, co-constitutional and interdependent.
Coming up in the Vancouver scene, Jayda taught herself to DJ, playing around her adopted city in various cafes and other small venues within music and nightlife. But her continued presence on the dance floor eventually introduced her to friends like LNS, aka Laura Sparrow, a fellow Vancouver DJ making waves with an introspective style of hardware-heavy techno. The two of them continued to push each other, and although their sounds may feel a bit yin-and-yang on paper, Jayda still feels like it’s important to foster not just the personal friendship, but to allow her friendship to shape her professional trajectory.
“I love being able to include her in projects like this mix. All the exclusives on DJ-Kicks are like that. Jennifer Loveless, who is originally from Toronto, but moved to Melbourne a long, long time ago, she was one of my first friends when I was touring. And Laura was probably my only friend that was a woman who also produced music at that time. It’s everyone I’ve had some sort of rapport or personal relationship with. Like HAAi, she lives down the road. She’s been my pandemic homie. So it’s all meaningful and thoughtful in that way, you know?”
You can hear this sense of community in the mix itself. After moving from some mid-‘90s Detroit house, the mix bottoms out for a second and catches its breath, the music almost cutting out entirely. From here, Jayda moves closer to peak time with melodies and breakdowns big enough for festival stages. But even with this big room drama on the mix, there is still a delicate sense of care that you can trace as Jayda mixes out of HAAi’s show-stopping, “Good Ol’ Fashioned Rugs” and into the light swing of her smoky house burner, “All I Need” — Jayda’s vocals repeating the message, “All I need is you here with me.”
This care extends beyond her relationship with her friends and is mirrored by her environmental activism. Before COVID reorganized every coordinate of the dance music world, there was an inchoate conversation forming around the sustainability of the dance music industry at large. Needless to say, this subject is close to Jayda’s heart, and she is at her most animated in our conversation while we discuss it. But she feels pulled between trying her best to remain conscious in terms of the choices she’s making, and the realities of her profession. “It’s hard, though, I’m not gonna lie, when you’re DJ and flying around all the time.” There are only so many carbon offsets and festival riders for canned water that you can ask for before the onset of a creeping sense of futility.
Jayda supplements this with a more public-facing component to her work, using her platform to educate her fans in the hopes that constant exposure will lead to a larger collective knowledge base. This same type of informed decision-making is what she is advocating for her fellow DJs. She continues to imagine alternate ways of doing business in the industry. “If each festival laid out what they’re doing in order to be more sustainable and made it more publicly known, then I, as a DJ, can make more conscious choices, just like the consumer can make more conscious choices about what products they buy. I can make more conscious choices about the type of festivals and the type of gigs that I’m playing where they are taking those kinds of sustainable matters into consideration.”
For Jayda, this is more than just snapping a quick Instagram caption, and has been iterated through her series of public lectures, JMG Talks. Through this platform, Jayda invites early-career academics to share their research with her fan base. Describing the impetus for the project, she explains, “When you know more things, you’re going to maybe pause and think about it before you do certain actions that may impact that. We did a JMG Talk on wetlands. We got to describe what a wetland is and someone was like, ‘Oh, so you mean like, that muddy place that’s like, down by my house? That’s a wetland?’ We’re like, ‘Yes!’ It’s all about reaching people who may be my fans and into dance music, but they may not necessarily be the kind of people who would look at what a wetland is, or oceanography, or forestry or anything like that. And it’s just another way to use my platform to reach people and talk about the things that are important to me.”
But Jayda also understands the ways that the analogy between the DJ and the consumer fails to think at the scale of the climate. These may be piecemeal responses to something that ultimately requires policy-level changes. As she reminds me, “I’m not perfect. I’m a DJ, right? So it’s not like I’m able to sit at home and, you know, not be emitting shit into the air via planes.”
While Jayda has certainly harnessed her music platform to showcase her academic interests, the relationship works both ways, her academic work also informing her music. This was particularly true of Jayda’s 2019 opus, Significant Changes. The album is a careful study of the place where house and disco meet and was originally slated to come out on Ninja Tune’s sub-label, Technicolour. But once you start listening, it’s easy to understand why the Ninja Tune A&R team quickly bumped it up to the main label. It is, as Jayda describes it, “a body of work” that she “approached like my thesis,” interwoven with an ecological consciousness. Orcas (Jayda’s academic animal of choice) appear regularly on the album (see “Orca’s Reprise”). And on “Missy Knows What’s Up,” Jayda manages to do something the Green Party has only dreamed of: turning out a dancefloor destroyer aimed specifically at raising environmental consciousness, sampling conservation biologist Misty MacDuffee on the track.
But there is also a formal element to the way in which Jayda’s music and academic work exist symbiotically. The title Significant Changes is derived from the most used term in her thesis: the moment when a statistical finding is outside the margin of error. The album itself is even structured to mirror a thesis — the first track is “Abstract,” the final one “Conclusion.” This, however, is not a one-off gimmick for Jayda. Rather, the same overlay is true of her DJ-Kicks mix. She explains that she approaches mixes “in chunks” where the goal is to identify how to put together a number of “bodies of work that you work on individually” before then trying “to pan out and weave them all together.”
You can feel that throughout. Jayda isn’t afraid to let the music hit silence before venturing in a new direction. The DJ-Kicks mix is a perfectly paced selection of tracks that build off one another, but that still manage to feel like your mate playing records in their living room — if your mate had way better records and could flawlessly beatmatch. It’s an unabashedly fun and, to return to a word that I can’t help but think of across Jayda’s work, intimate approach to DJing. This is what strikes me as Jayda’s ecological consciousness more generally.
The environmental philosopher, Tim Morton, describes ecology as the realization “that all beings are interconnected.” For Morton, the way that we can affect this interconnection is through art, which brings us into contact with strangers via the creation of a “radical intimacy.” This is what Jayda is able to do as a DJ and a producer.
You can feel the radical intimacy shine through especially in the last third of her DJ-Kicks mix. She mixes out of the L’Renee and Fit Siegel’s banger “Tonite (Detroit Mix)” by slowing the record down to a stop (a trick she pulled before launching into “Creep” in the Boiler Room set that launched a thousand ships) before mixing in the vocals from DJ Koze and Ada’s cover of “Homesick.” It’s a melancholic track, a longing for a home that doesn’t exist anymore. The song seems to capture the feeling of a world that’s ebbing closer and closer to climatic destruction — of being slightly out of time and place.
But Jayda doesn’t stop at this impasse — she thinks creatively and affirmatively about what comes after the end of the world, the hip-hop swagger of the track and piano line sound impossibly hopeful. It’s a moment that seems to touch on the dual ecology of Jayda’s work. It’s ecological dance music, both in terms of the message Jayda is getting across, but also in Morton’s subtler sense of ecology, an attention to our always expanding and enveloping interconnection with one another. Said somewhat differently, it’s radically intimate dance music.